May 23, 2014

What the Shamans Knew

Psilocybin, found in certain mushrooms, appears to help prevent depression and anxiety by enhancing mood.

Emotions are how we respond to our world and what happens in it, but our emotions can sometimes take on a life of their own. If the emotion is positive, like excitement or love, this isn't necessarily a problem; but it can be if more negative feelings begin to color the way we experience the world.

Researchers at the Psychiatric University Hospital of Zurich recently tested a novel way to reduce negative moods and promote a more positive outlook — mushrooms containing the hallucinogens psilocybin and psilocin.

Nearly 200 varieties of mushrooms contain psilocybin or psilocin. The compounds appear to weaken the processing of negative stimuli in the amygdala and promote positive feelings.

Negative feelings — such as fear or anger — are initiated in an area of the brain called the amygdala. When activity in the amygdala is elevated, it strengthens negative signals and weakens positive ones, a process that can lead to depression.

There are nearly 200 varieties of mushrooms that contain psilocybin or psilocin. The compounds appear to weaken the processing of negative stimuli in the amygdala and promote positive feelings, a finding that would not surprise the shamans who have used “magic mushrooms” to stimulate mystical and religious experiences for centuries.

Researchers gave 25 healthy volunteers the hallucinogen psilocybin (0.0726 mg/lb) and then checked amygdala reactivity to negative stimuli using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), as well as well-established tests assessing positive and negative feelings.

Participants received psilocybin and placebo in two separate sessions at least 14 days apart. Brain scans to check the activity of their amygdalas were performed during each session.

Psilocybin moderated amygdala activity, making the amygdala less reactive to negative stimuli, as confirmed by fMRI, and definitely resulted in a heightened mood. The researchers say the next step will be to test its effects on depressed patients to see if it can reduce amygdala reactivity — and associated negative emotions.

According to lead author Rainer Krähenmann, the findings could “point the way to novel approaches to treatment.” Depressive patients in particular react more to negative stimuli and their thoughts often revolve around negative contents.

If psilocybin is able to short-circuit negative emotions and promote positive feelings, it could serve as a treatment for those depressed patients who either do not respond to the treatments that are currently available or experience serious side effects from them.

The study is published in Biological Psychiatry.

NOTE: We regret that we cannot answer personal medical questions.
© 2016 interMDnet Corporation.